Kevin Smith's fan base is a double-edged sword. Sure, he's enjoyed his early career as a cult filmmaker, feverishly beloved by a small horde of acolytes. But there's the flipside: how will the faithful respond to their maverick leader's venture into new (dare we say it?), mature territory? Chances are there'll be much muttering of "sell-out" under collective breaths.
But there shouldn't be. For while Jersey Girl never reaches the comic heights of Clerks, it's funny, lively and completely watchable. As opposed to Dogma. And let's not forget that Chasing Amy saw Smith take tentative steps in a similar direction, readying him to now draw honest, emotional performances from his cast.
Affleck shocks by being especially charming, canning his usual ham-flavoured tics - and the rest of the cast backs him up, grouchy US comedian George Carlin showing a softer side beneath his well-honed caustic grump, while Liv Tyler makes us forget all about her last pairing with Ben in Armageddon: see, they do have chemistry!
The smartest move, however, is bringing in Vilmos Zsigmond, the respected lensman behind such classics as The Deer Hunter and Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. No more will detractors scoff at Smith's torpid visuals, his inability to direct traffic in Toytown: Jersey Girl actually looks - yes, looks - like a grown-up film, Zsigmond introducing fluidity (pans, crane shots...), depth and texture. Looks like the View Askewniverse has finally discovered whole new worlds...
There's still some growing to do, though, the otherwise sharp dialogue slipping into clunky exposition as the characters tell each other EXACTLY HOW THEY FEEL AND WHY. Even worse, Smith underlines their emotional moments with sappy pop songs that belong in primetime TV dramas and Richard Curtis movies.
Yet Jersey Girl manages to burrow into your heart after wriggling around your funnybone, providing just enough cheer to stop you mourning the demise of Jay and Silent Bob. Of course, there will be diehards who remain convinced that some evil Hollywood type has swapped Kevin Smith for Nora Ephron, but what can you do? Apart from suggest they clamp their hands over their ears, shut their eyes and hum loudly until The Green Hornet arrives...
Could alienate the hardcore fanboys, but this is a step in the right direction. As father to this latest cinematic child, Kevin Smith should be proud.
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